Sunday, November 20, 2011

Reflections of a Paperless Class- Part 1

After recently finishing a most fabulous program on Ed. Tech. through Yeshiva University-IUSP and the generosity of the Jim Joseph Foundation I was ready to roll up my sleeves and showcase some of my new found abilities; I wanted to teach a paperless digital class. To a lot of people the idea of a paperless digital class is not realistic. Not all students have laptops or mobile learning devices, and not all students have internet access at home. That being said, with forethought, planning and true 21st century/web 2.0 curriculum, paperless digital classes can be a reality.

I spent a healthy chunk of my summer producing pod casts and vod casts recordings of myself reading, translating and explaining texts students were going to study for the year. Using Edmodo, an online educational platform where students could access files, submit work and have group discussions, I uploaded all the materials (texts, worksheets, rubrics, videos, links, etc.) students would need for the year. I created individual lessons (I refer to them as levels, using gaming terminology) and pre-loaded all the course work. I knew for this to even work I would need to schedule time in the computer lab for my classes to take place. Thankfully I was able to block off time in the mornings where virtually no other classes were using the lab.

As day one of school approached it was hard to anticipate what students would say when I would explain to them how class was going to work moving forward. When I introduced the paperless concept to my students for the first time most students seemed bewildered yet happy at once. They liked the fact they would be wired in but how would they do their classwork or homework or projects? This was new terrain for all of us.

I spent the first 3 days of school orienting my students on how to use Edmodo, where to access materials, folders, files, how to submit work, and how to engage in group discussions, etc. Students (and parents) had to sign a contract including a statement on  their observance of digital citizenship. After the 3 day orientation most students felt comfortable learning in a new way, were ready to roll up their sleeves and plug in.

After the first full week of digital learning my first observation was students were engaged in learning virtually the entire class time.Students expressed their feeling so much more organized with their files in a digital backpack. Other students felt more motivated to work and had a better handle on their time management  knowing they had to submit work to meet their digital due dates/deadlines.

From a teacher point of view there were no behavioral issues because students were too busy working on their lessons/levels. I found my time was completely freed up to assist individual students as they worked at their own paces. Because the learning was digital I felt it was much easier able to offer real elements of differentiated instruction be it through assessment choices, group verses individual learning choices and etc.

I polled my students after their first 2 weeks of learning and the results were clear: All students bar one said they were learning well and enjoying the wired style of learning. I was happy with the results but needed to provide a solution to helping that one student who seemed a little overwhelmed. Was it the technology, the subject, the teacher etc? I also needed to give it more time to see how students would perform in formative and summative assessments. Were they having fun or were they learning deeper-or both?


  1. It's really amazing what you have accomplished.
    At Ohr Chadash, we are using the iPads to go paperless in all of our classes for 4th,5th, and 6th grades. Teachers email a pdf to the students. Students mark it up or type into it using an app (for now either smart note or neu.annotate) then email it back to the teacher.
    The teachers also use an online quiz generator for tests, quizzes, or polls, giving them instant feedback.
    Its been working great, and whats even better is that none of these teachers are particularly computer or tech savvy on any level and adopted to this method so quickly.

  2. This is a great example of venturing into using technology in the classroom. You mention a contract, including an observance of digital citizenship – thank you for making me aware of this important concept.

  3. Thanks Noam. It's great to see educators adopting and adapting to a paperless class. What would you say has been your schools' biggest victory and biggest challenge since making the switch?

  4. Thank you postalicia! I have found the contract to be extremely important in setting the tone to my digital class as well as showing my students privilege come with responsibility.

  5. This is an amazing feat in education. Sometimes we hear parents complain about their kids heavy backpacks. Textbooks, notebooks, papers scattered about! This is the wave of the future. Go to class with a mobile device, concentrate on learning and not the excess!

  6. I can only speak as a director of IT, not as a teacher, but I would say the biggest victory is giving a class voice to students that previously were either too shy or too unengaged to actively participate in class, but feel fine having long reply-all discussions with the class, and emailing their teachers until late at night.
    Arguably, the biggest challenge, is giving those students that make excuses another out. Teachers are still trying to determine how to handle a student that says "it didn't work for me" "the internet was down" "i couldn't log in" whether they have a legitimate excuse or just didn't want to do the work.
    What challenges have you run into?

  7. Noam that is an interesting observation on student excuses. I wrote a second post which inldues some of my observations/challenges. Thanks again for your remarks!